Handel: Riccardo Primo

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COMPOSERS: Handel
LABELS: Deutsche Harmonia Mundi
ALBUM TITLE: Handel
WORKS: Riccardo Primo
PERFORMER: Lawrence Zazzo, Nuria Rial, Geraldine McGreevy, Tim Mead, David Wilson-Johson, Curtis Streetman; Basel Chamber Orchestra/Paul Goodwin
CATALOGUE NO: 88697174212

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Even with today’s Handel revival in full swing, a number of his operatic titles remain obstinately unfamiliar. Written in 1727, and centred on the activities of a celebrated English monarch (Richard the Lionheart) in Cyprus at the time of the Third Crusade, Riccardo Primo has had few modern revivals. It did well in its initial run – partly, perhaps, because its patriotic theme chimed in with the recent coronation of George II, and as this new recording – only the work’s second – demonstrates, there is plenty of fine music on display, including an imaginatively scored storm scene right at the start. But with Handel, it’s the quality of the arias and their singing that count most. In the title role, countertenor Lawrence Zazzo has a trace of hoot but is expressive with the text. Nuria Rial, as his wife Costanza, deploys a pure and true soprano, light in tone. She’s well matched by Geraldine McGreevy’s Pulcheria, fleet of vocal foot and graceful with it. David Wilson-Johnson’s villain, Isacio, is a vivid presence, while Tim Mead sounds mellow enough as Pulcheria’s lover, Oronte. All in all, it’s a highly presentable vocal line-up. There’s also very good work from the Kammerorchester Basel, who are constantly alert, and from conductor Paul Goodwin, who shows a strong feeling for tempo in the arias, though the recitatives hang fire. But the over-reverberant acoustic of the recording venue, a church in Basel, leaves everyone sounding a little water-logged – especially the band. George Hall